Gray Whales Return to Whidbey
As the cold melts away and flowers start to bloom again, Whidbey Island is blessed with a rare and wonderful gift. Many people hike to the very tip of a bluff or edge of the waves hoping to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon. Then it happens – water spurts into the air from nowhere and at the surface, you can just barely see a tail appear.
Oh, what a whale of a tale to tell….
Spring brings with it a special excitement for this curious island. As the waters warm, they welcome back one of our favorite travelers; the gray whale! Migrating every year from their winter home in Mexico to the wild waves of Alaska; gray whales often make a special stop within the waters of the Puget Sound.
As food foragers, the gray whale “dig[s] up the mudflats [on the ocean floor] for shrimp and worms.”1 They then filter these small creatures through their baleen, or whalebone, which acts as a strainer to keep the food in their mouth and push out all the water.2
Given their foraging requirements, gray whales’ proximity to the shore and repetitive presence in the Puget Sound comes as little surprise. While the average depth of the Pacific Ocean is a little over 12,000 feet, Puget Sound’s deepest point is approximately 930 feet. The shallow waters of the sound serve as a great benefit to this massive mammal that relies on both oxygen and access to the ocean floor in order to survive.
On Whidbey Island, we take great joy in the return of these travelers every year. Many islanders and tourists alike find their way to the water’s edge and peer into the waves in hopes of a glimpse. Luckily, sightings are not at all uncommon on the island. To commemorate the love we have for these ocean friends, both Coupeville and Langley have erected what is called a “Whale Bell.” These bells have a simple instruction: “See a whale, ring the bell.” These bells serve as both a monument to the whale’s impact on our island culture and a creative way to notify others of the whale’s presence so they can also look out and see!
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Every year the town of Langley has pulled together to commemorate the beginning of whale season. Complete with a parade, this festival speaks volumes of the love islanders have for their precious whales. Unfortunately, the event has been canceled this year due to covid for the health and safety of the community continue to check back here for updates. While the ring of the bell brings joyous memories of years past residences and travelers alike look forward to a day where gatherings return to celebrate these incredible creatures.
- “Gray Whales.” Orca Network, https://www.orcanetwork.org/Main/index.php?categories_file=Gray%20Whales
- “Gray Whales.” National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/g/gray-whale/